Miracles: from Wonder-workers to Canonized Saints

PhD Mandatory Elective
Course Description: 

What has happened and what is being told? Is it not the question that fascinates us through our whole existence, whether in a historical, scientific or personal context? Creating a story out of an event is the creative process of giving meaning to an experience, collective or individual and this narrative framework is often the interpretation itself.

The present course will offer an introduction to the general topic of miracles as a specific narrative form, their typology and functions, i.e., their use in association with various types of literary and cultic discourse in order to define, illustrate, and promote the status as wonderworkers of various individuals, as well as their audience and reception over a period of time stretching from classical and late antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages.

The course will provide a theoretical discussion of the main issues involved, such as the conceptualization of miracles in philosophical/theological contexts, the literary conventions that inform narrative accounts of miracles and of miracle collections, the use of such accounts in Christian and non-Christian milieus by various forms of hagiography and biography, the processes that led to the progressive standardization of miracle accounts and their progressive

instrumentalization in the context of canonization processes, and the interaction between the authors and promoters of such accounts and their intended audiences. These as well as other connected issues will be addressed from a more general perspective in the first half of the course, which will provide a general chronological survey of the formation and

evolution of miracle accounts and miracle collections; this overview will be articulated in three sections (Classical and Late Antiquity, Early and Central Middle Ages, Later Middle Ages) and will cover a geographic area extending from Byzantium to Western Europe. The formation, evolution, and ultimate standardization of miracle narratives in the context of hagiographic accounts will be traced with the help of selected examples from the most significant authors and texts.

The second part of the course will take a closer look at several individual saints' cults in an attempt to illustrate the way general theological trends and narrative typologies were reflected in a specific context (such as debates over Orthodoxy and other theological controversis in Byzantium). We will move on to see how definitions of miracles as those elaborated by the papacy and other authorities within the Catholic Church were adopted, followed, and adapted in the context of local cults, relying mainly on Western and Central European examples. Within this survey we will also try to reflect upon the needs and the ideological concerns of communities and individuals in a local/regional context as well as of wider unities, like religious orders.

All throughout the course students will be given the possibility to discuss critically relevant items of modern literature on the topics addressed and to apply in practice the theoretical principles outlined during the lectures by analyzing a selection of relevant texts or by discussing concrete examples taken from their own research.

Learning Outcomes: 

The ability to exercise critical thinking, i.e., to select relevant primary source material as well as secondary literature and read it with an awareness of the linguistic and cultural background implied.
Assessed regularly through interactive discussion in class and short critical presentations of the recommended literature.
The ability to summarize, present and discuss ideas and arguments orally in a clear, effective and engaging way. Assessed through oral presentations during the semester.
The ability to locate, synthesize and critically evaluate literature relevant to the research topic.
Assessed through the end-of-term written assessment.
The ability to select, synthesize, and disseminate academic knowledge relevant to a wider audience. Assessed through the end-of-term written assessment.
Multicultural understanding as manifested in the awareness of and respect for points of view deriving from other national, social, or cultural backgrounds. Assessed regularly through discussions in class of passages from the readings that offer relevant topics.

Learning to refer local/regional/particular issues to larger/universal structures with a full awareness of the similarities and differences as well as the limitations involved in this process.